Michael Green: What the Social Progress Index can reveal about your country

On January 4, 1934, a young man delivered a report to the United States Congress that 80 years on, still shapes the lives of
everyone in this room today, still shapes the lives of
everyone on this planet. That young man wasn’t a politician, he wasn’t a businessman, a civil rights activist or a faith leader. He was that most unlikely of heroes, an economist. His name was Simon Kuznets and the report that
he delivered was called “National Income, 1929-1932.” Now, you might think this is a rather dry and dull report. And you’re absolutely right. It’s dry as a bone. But this report is the foundation of how, today, we judge the
success of countries: what we know best as
Gross Domestic Product, GDP. GDP has defined and shaped our lives for the last 80 years. And today I want to talk about a different way to measure
the success of countries, a different way to define
and shape our lives for the next 80 years. But first, we have to understand how GDP came to
dominate our lives. Kuznets’ report was delivered at a moment of crisis. The U.S. economy was plummeting into the Great Depression and policy makers were
struggling to respond. Struggling because they didn’t
know what was going on. They didn’t have data and statistics. So what Kuznet’s report gave them was reliable data on what
the U.S. economy was producing, updated year by year. And armed with this information, policy makers were, eventually, able to find a way out
of the slump. And because Kuznets’ invention was found to be so useful, it spread around the world. And now today, every country produces GDP statistics. But, in that first report, Kuznets himself delivered a warning. It’s in the introductory chapter. On page seven he says, “The welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measurement of
national income as defined above.” It’s not the greatest sound
bite in the world, and it’s dressed up in the cautious
language of the economist. But his message was clear: GDP is a tool to help us measure
economic performance. It’s not a measure
of our well-being. And it shouldn’t be a guide
to all decision making. But we have ignored Kuznets’ warning. We live in a world where GDP is the benchmark of success in a global economy. Our politicians boast when
GDP goes up. Markets move and trillions of dollars of capital move around the world based on which countries
are going up and which countries
are going down, all measured in GDP. Our societies have become engines to create more GDP. But we know that GDP is flawed. It ignores the environment. It counts bombs and prisons as progress. It can’t count happiness or community. And it has nothing to say
about fairness or justice. Is it any surprise that our world, marching to the drumbeat of GDP, is teetering on the brink
of environmental disaster and filled with anger and conflict? We need a better way
to measure our societies, a measure based on the real
things that matter to real people. Do I have enough to eat? Can I read and write? Am I safe? Do I have rights? Do I live in a society where
I’m not discriminated against? Is my future and the future of my children
prevented from environmental destruction? These are questions that GDP does not and cannot answer. There have, of course, been efforts in the past to move beyond GDP. But I believe that we’re living in a moment when we are ready for a measurement revolution. We’re ready because we’ve seen, in the financial crisis of 2008, how our fetish for economic growth led us so far astray. We’ve seen, in the Arab Spring, how countries like Tunisia were supposedly economic superstars, but they were societies that were seething with discontentment. We’re ready, because today
we have the technology to gather and analyze data in ways that would have been
unimaginable to Kuznets. Today, I’d like to introduce you
to the Social Progress Index. It’s a measure of the
well-being of society, completely separate from GDP. It’s a whole new way
of looking at the world. The Social Progress Index begins by defining what it means to be a good society based around three dimensions. The first is, does everyone have
the basic needs for survival: food, water, shelter, safety? Secondly, does everyone have access to the building blocks
to improve their lives: education, information, health
and sustainable environment? And then third, does every
individual have access to a chance to pursue their goals and dreams and ambitions free from obstacles? Do they have rights, freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination and access to the the world’s
most advanced knowledge? Together, these 12 components form the Social Progress framework. And for each of these 12 components, we have indicators to measure
how countries are performing. Not indicators of effort or intention, but real achievement. We don’t measure how much
a country spends on healthcare, we measure the length and
quality of people’s lives. We don’t measure whether governments
pass laws against discrimination, we measure whether people
experience discrimination. But what you want to know is who’s top, don’t you?
(Laughter) I knew that, I knew that, I knew that. Okay, I’m going to show you. I’m going to show you on this chart. So here we are, what I’ve done here is put on the
vertical axis social progress. Higher is better. And then, just for comparison, just for fun, on the horizontal axis
is GDP per capita. Further to the right is more. So the country in the world with the highest social progress, the number one country on social progress is New Zealand. (Applause) Well done! Never been; must go. (Laughter) The country with the least social progress, I’m sorry to say, is Chad. I’ve never been; maybe next year. (Laughter) Or maybe the year after. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Aha, but New Zealand has a higher GDP than Chad!” It’s a good point, well made. But let me show you two other countries. Here’s the United States — considerably richer than New Zealand, but with a lower level of social progress. And then here’s Senegal — it’s got a higher level of
social progress than Chad, but the same level of GDP. So what’s going on? Well, look. Let me bring in the rest of
the countries of the world, the 132 we’ve been able to measure, each one represented by a dot. There we go. Lots of dots. Now, obviously I can’t do all of them, so a few highlights for you: The highest ranked G7 country is Canada. My country, the United Kingdom, is sort of middling, sort of dull, but who cares — at least we beat the French. (Laughter) And then looking at the
emerging economies, top of the BRICS,
pleased to say, is Brazil. (Applause) Come on, cheer! Go, Brazil! Beating South Africa, then Russia, then China and then India. Tucked away on the right-hand side, you will see a dot of a
country with a lot of GDP but not a huge amount
of social progress — that’s Kuwait. Just above Brazil is a social progress superpower — that’s Costa Rica. It’s got a level of social progress the same
as some Western European countries, with a much lower GDP. Now, my slide is getting
a little cluttered and I’d like to step back a bit. So let me take away these countries, and then pop in the regression line. So this shows the average relationship between GDP and social progress. The first thing to notice, is that there’s lots of noise around the trend line. And what this shows, what this empirically demonstrates, is that GDP is not destiny. At every level of GDP per capita, there are opportunities
for more social progress, risks of less. The second thing to notice is that for poor countries, the curve is really steep. So what this tells us is that if poor countries can get a little bit of extra GDP, and if they reinvest that in doctors, nurses, water supplies, sanitation, etc., there’s a lot of social progress bang for your GDP buck. And that’s good news, and that’s what
we’ve seen over the last 20, 30 years, with a lot of people lifted out of poverty by economic growth and good policies in poorer countries. But go on a bit further up the curve, and then we see it flattening out. Each extra dollar of GDP is buying less and less social progress. And with more and more
of the world’s population living on this part of the curve, it means GDP is becoming less and less useful as a guide to our development. I’ll show you an example of Brazil. Here’s Brazil: social progress of about 70 out of 100, GDP per capita about
14,000 dollars a year. And look, Brazil’s above the line. Brazil is doing a reasonably good job of turning GDP into social progress. But where does Brazil go next? Let’s say that Brazil adopts a bold economic plan to double GDP in the next decade. But that is only half a plan. It’s less than half a plan, because where does Brazil
want to go on social progress? Brazil, it’s possible to increase your growth, increase your GDP, while stagnating or going backwards on social progress. We don’t want Brazil to become like Russia. What you really want is for Brazil to get ever more efficient at creating
social progress from its GDP, so it becomes more like New Zealand. And what that means is that Brazil needs to prioritize social progress in its development plan and see that it’s not just growth alone, it’s growth with social progress. And that’s what the Social
Progress Index does: It reframes the debate about development, not just about GDP alone, but inclusive, sustainable growth that brings real improvements
in people’s lives. And it’s not just about countries. Earlier this year, with our friends from the Imazon
nonprofit here in Brazil, we launched the first subnational
Social Progress Index. We did it for the Amazon region. It’s an area the size of
Europe, 24 million people, one of the most deprived
parts of the country. And here are the results, and this is broken down into nearly 800 different municipalities. And with this detailed information about the real quality of life in this part of the country, Imazon and other partners from government,
business and civil society can work together to construct a development plan that will help really improve
people’s lives, while protecting that
precious global asset that is the Amazon Rainforest. And this is just the beginning, You can create a Social Progress Index for any state, region,
city or municipality. We all know and love TEDx; this is Social Pogress-x. This is a tool for anyone to come and use. Contrary to the way we
sometimes talk about it, GDP was not handed down from
God on tablets of stone. (Laughter) It’s a measurement tool
invented in the 20th century to address the challenges
of the 20th century. In the 21st century, we face new challenges: aging, obesity, climate change, and so on. To face those challenges, we need new tools of measurement, new ways of valuing progress. Imagine if we could measure what nonprofits, charities, volunteers, civil society organizations really contribute to our society. Imagine if businesses competed not just on the basis of
their economic contribution, but on their contribution
to social progress. Imagine if we could hold
politicians to account for really improving people’s lives. Imagine if we could work together — government, business,
civil society, me, you — and make this century the
century of social progress. Thank you. (Applause)

  1. Sadly, the new level of Republicans in office are fielding an agenda that is very regressive along the very value measures that are being promoted here.

  2. Has he forgoten the GINI index? I know the GINI is used on inequality mostly, but is also used to measure science, health, ecology, engineering & agriculture in countries. Putting all these in one index can be misleading.

  3. These countries are going to have a europen culture , I mean Muslim countries , in fact they must not be as europen culture and I guess that all country have to care about their environment or as as he mentioned about GDP , just not about the world would be clean without these countries .

  4. Nifty & witty Marxist visionary that makes his future one world government sound palatable. At least as an economist, he sees clearly where the UN wants to go & is going. He's another example of "Red Capitalism" like Obama, Putin & Xi Jinping.

  5. I feel like there is going to be a subjective nature to this data. How do you measure if people go through discrimination? If it is just person views this is likely very subjective and the measurement tell more of the prescription of the discrimination rather then discrimination it's self. Take women, women in some African nations may have a low reporting of discrimination even lower then in the US, but does that mean there is lower discrimination? No. To measure discrimination we must look at the same actions taken by two groups of people and compare the outcomes. Ei, if a man and a woman walk down the street, what are the chances each will be attacked? Or if a man and a woman work the same job with the same education and the same productivity, is there a difference in pay. 

  6. I'm quite sure that the line flattens out due to government corruption. The richer a country is, the more money government takes, then corruption causes less to be spent on actual social progress.

  7. The "Social Progress" models can only work in homogeneous societies, where everyone is similar and have similar mentalities. This will not work in a multicultural society like the US, the only thing keeping this crowd together is their common goal of making money.

  8. Think out side the GDP box. I love it.
    Great idea and noble effort, although I'm interested in knowing how these non-quantitative attributes are calculated.

  9. GDP is useful because it compares countries economies. I don't really see any use for social progress index unless you are trying to compare other countries human rights.

  10. In short: The problem are size and source of the data. Based on SPI methodology I'm not sure they can't be manipulated. 

    That type of index would be great if we would ask everyone for subjective opinion and some everyday facts. SPI would get more of my trust, if they would publish level of measurement error. Or how the data would change, if we go to slums or richest provinces? Also sometimes problem is not a geographical place, but rather some kind caste system like: indian caste system, color of skin in '50 in USA or family connections.

  11. I am really impressed that Brazil stands out in this Social Progress Index because we advanced against social inequality. However, 80% or more of GDP are on the millionaries and billionaires of the country… So, we do need to keep on track with more social programs that are not well accepted by most of 'rich people'.

  12. Ugh. This whole "GDP (PPP per capita) isn't everything" message is something I've heard many times, but what I don't recall seeing is anybody claiming that it is everything. All I've ever heard is people talking about GDP (PPP per capita) as one indicator of socioeconomic development, just like the life expectancy at birth, or the under 5 mortality rate, or the adult literacy rate, or the unemployment rate, or the homicide rate or countless others, and saying (implicitly) that (ceteris paribus) more is better which, as far as I can see, is correct.
    It is also worth noting that the concept of a composite quality of life index including noneconomic components is not original; it was the concept behind the extremely well known Human Development Index (invented in 1990), and many less well known alternative approaches.
    I think most people implicitly know that composite statistics can be useful for getting a general overview of the level of socioeconomic development in a time and place, but that individual indicators, like those mentioned above, serve a useful role in giving a clear picture of the way one measurable aspect of societal wellbeing varies between time and place, for instance, if you are discussing the economic competence if a particular government, GDP PPP per capita or unemployment rate records will be a lot more helpful than SPI or HDI records. If you are discussing approaches to policing, you want records of the rates of different kinds of crime, you don't want it mixed in with a bunch of health or education data.

  13. Even if this index provided doesn't make complete sense, I think humanity will need to start thinking in these terms if it wants to avoid a couple coming problems(Such as having more people than jobs). 

  14. He says this "Social Development Index" is a new thing, but that's a bold-faced lie.  We've already had something like this since 1990, it's called the Human Development Index (HDI) and the UN has been publishing the figures for years.  It has it's own wikipedia page ffs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index 

    This guy never mentions it, and indeed goes on to imply that no such thing exists.  What's he playing at?

  15. I wonder what metrics were used in measuring the Social progress. Everything must be tied up and collected properly. I wonder how everything was done. 

  16. What the steep curve of the poor countries illustrates is the whole point of increased production to begin with – the foundation for an increasing standard of living is producing more than you consume (although you can temporarily achieve this by going into debt).

    What he won't mention though (and I'm 2/3 through) is that the point of increasing output in post-industrial societies is not a need for even more production, but increasing public debt and runaway compound interest. As a corporation has shareholders, a state has bondholders, and therefore the corporation and country alike are under pressure to increase their profits. The modern state and bond market is a well refined tax farm.

    This is what drives the constant call for increased 'growth'. In the 19th and early 20th century, growth meant that your money gained value because it was part of a limited money supply bidding for an ever increasing pool of goods in the marketplace. It meant that less of your hours worked per day went towards merely sustaining life as it had before the mechanisation of agriculture. It meant you could now send your children to school instead the farm or coal mine without starving. It meant rising living standards because your house that didn't have indoor plumbing now does.

    Now in the 21st century 'growth' means taking on another job because the value of your money is being printed away because the state is under pressure from the bond markets to demand more of your income and give you less in return. Once this hits breaking point all sorts of monetary and fiscal solutions will be proposed, but I have a foolproof one anybody can understand – outlaw public borrowing. If you cannot borrow against the collateral of your children's future labor, neither should politicians be able to.

  17. My major concern with this policy is that it doesn't take into consideration the tendency of people to slack off if a social safety net is there to catch them.

    The first American colony by Britain failed because the people that went there had this utopian idea of how they'd share everything.

    What actually happened is that some people worked very hard while others did nothing because they were going to share in the harvest regardless.

    The result was that the community nearly starved to death.

    They came together as a community and reestablished property rights and individual responsibility to provide for oneself. And the community went from starving to thriving.

    Now, I'm not saying these ideas are essential. However, we have to be careful about not changing society in ways that it ultimately destroys itself.

    We need a certain amount of economic productivity to survive and remain viable as a society. Productivity should be encouraged. And those that are productive must be rewarded for it or they simply won't bother. We've seen this repeatedly. One of the core failings of the USSR was that people had so little incentive to work that they really only worked hard enough to avoid getting in trouble. The old "you pretend to pay us and we'll pretend to work".

    Look, I want everyone to have everything they want and be happy. But we have to be realistic about how we get to those places. And if we look at societies that have little trouble feeding their people, they tend to have very strong cultural and civic work ethics.

    Take that away from such nations and most of them would be starving every time they hit an economic bump in the road.

    What is also useful about GDP is that it restrains to some extent anti productive legislation and policies because you can very clearly see a cause and effect. This bill goes into law… and productivity goes down… unemployment goes up… and then we can have a discussion about whether the good of that bill was worth the demonstrable ill.

  18. Replace the Opportunity factor with GDP, economic development is still a vital indicator for a nation's health. Much work is needed to transform these factors into numerical values, but still a good idea, addresses many issues we face today.

  19. how you could miss Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland or Finland in your chart? i was curious about one of this country.

  20. The UK is high on the Social Progress Index? There's something wrong here. I live in London and I know people here live like zombies (have a look at people here on the way and back from work on the trains to see what zombies look like), as do many people in a lot of big industrialised cities. Maybe what is missing is "spirituality" – the stuff that fills your spirit, like being at one with each other, nature, discussing "truth" (not just in TED talks or TV shows but with your neighbour). Anyway, there's something missing in this index. 

  21. Costa Rica at the same level of social progress as countries with more GDP.
    Which means that we make more with the little we have.
    And GDP is not the answer to everything.

    A more detail SPI should be done in every municipality.

  22. This guy just wants an index based on his vision of a perfect society – national accounts (of which GDP is a just a by-product) – is not remotly as ideological as presented here. You just can't compare the two.  

  23. gdp means very little in itself.what matters is how easy people have it.if you only work 30 hours a week and can afford alot then your doing well.simple velocity and amount of money exchanged is not enough to show this.

  24. The 3 dimension mentioned (Basic human needs, Foundations of well being, Opportunity to develop) won't they boil down to life expectancy, education, and income indices already measured by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index ?

  25. SPI, like GDP, is another form of reductionism. Not enough is said about the problem of qualitative analysis and how the graph was calculated, so we are just to assume accuracy, objectivity, and commensurability of unknown metrics, which begs the question… Further, Mr. Green's SPI is not original, there is the UN's HDI and Bhutan's "Gross Domestic Happiness." If statistics had ever helped save the world this might be a more compelling argument.

  26. In NZ, despite the high rating, we still have "third world" diseases common in our lower socio-economic areas – rheumatic fever, impetigo etc – these are issues of basic nutrition. Our biggest social issues are child poverty (relative to our cost of living), child suicide, child abuse, declining educational standards (I am a secondary school teacher).  Our environmental record is much exaggerated with over 70% or our fresh waterways unsafe to swim in. This last issue is another example of the focus on GDP, especially through primary industries such as dairy – which we are a world leader in producing – destroying the environment our businesses and lifestyles depend on.
    What the Social Progress Indicator does not include, and this seems to be a grave error given that it is in part a reaction to the GFC, is a measure of socio-economic wealth disparity. Despite our (I assume) reasonably good scores in tolerance, access to education, personal rights and freedoms, like most countries we seem to have a widening gap between the rich and the poor. This is the main cause of the problems I listed above – simply, we have a large part of the population, over 20%, living in what we call poverty, and genuinely suffering. I am not saying we have people living in conditions like Sub-Saharan Africa, but given that we score the highest in SPI we should not have diseases like rheumatic fever present at all.
    Unfortunately, a big reason for this is institutional and systemic racism. I will stand and defend our bicultural record as better than any other colonial nation. We have had a government tribunal in place since 1975, hearing claims against the historic government regarding violations of our founding treaty with the first people to settle here – the Maori – and has paid out billions in land and cash to various tribal claimants. Some tribes (iwi) are now among our biggest corporate entities and are advancing the lives of their members significantly. However, this has not been sufficient to change the fact that Maori, and our large population of Polynesian migrants, sit at the bottom of every social statistic, especially in health and education. Our colonial past, as it did in USA, Africa and every other colonial nation, destroyed the heart and soul of an entire culture, and they have not recovered yet.

  27. This man has obviously never heard of the Human Development Index, because if he had I don't think he would have given this speech at all

  28. Simply, this SPI is combining many measurements in one. GDP is used to measure economy. We have other measurements such as HDI …etc. 

  29. já até fiz um video sobre o trabalho desses caras. é fabuloso. no topo dos brics estava o brasil em 2014. costa rica é uma superpotencia do SPI.

  30. GDP is not ultimate indicator of social progress, the ultimate indicator is HDI. In spite of that, it is a measure to indicate overall progress of a country.

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